From the cramped little bandstand, actually little more than a corner at the front of the bar, the trio had started to play. The formal restaurant on the upper floor of Bertha’s was indeed famous for its mussels and other seafood, but the dingy watering hole that faced the Broadway side of the street was famous for reasons that had nothing to do with cuisine and everything to do with jazz.
For over twenty five years, Bertha’s had been the Tuesday night home of Paul Wingo, the living embodiment of a sound forged in a past generation and a Baltimore institution in his own right.
In his standard uniform of faded flannel shirt and worn black jeans, wrists wrapped in a dozen rubber bands, Wingo launched into the opening riff of the Duke Pearson classic, Jeanine, his fingers dancing across the fretboard like a swarm of nervous bumblebees. The couple in the booth broke from their clinch to listen, and the blonde sitting next to the band fluffed her hair and adjusted her already short skirt, pulling it an inch or so higher up her thighs, giving the guitarist a brief glimpse of the heaven that awaited him later, if he played his cards right. Wingo gave a gentle” heh, heh, heh”, his grinning face a living relief map of the Grand Canyon etched in flesh, and returned his concentration to the Buscarino guitar for his next solo.
“This guy is really awesome”, snorted Finn. “Goddamned genius. I’ve known him for years.” In reality, Alton had only heard the guitarist two or three times, when, back in the eighties, his mother had had a brief but torrid affair with the drummer in the band, and in a blinding flash of conscience, and not wanting to leave the toddler Alton at home alone, brought him along to the assignation at the club. As a rule, Findley’s musical tastes tended more toward Mastodon.
“Yeah, right, Finn. You and the genius. Hey, miss, how about another Fat Tire over here?”
Barlow was quickly on his way to a good and proper drunk. This had rapidly turned into the worst day of his life and seeing no easy way out and without funds or ideas, he plunged headlong into the pillowy comfort of beer foam. Barlow’s moral compass was slightly off true, but for all intents and purposes, Alton Lee Findley’s compass had completely lost its needle long, long ago.
Audrey the bartender passed the glass to Barlow, then slowly inched her way along the bar till she was in front of Alton. She was a big girl, full of chest, wide of ass, with a mountain of dark hair piled high on her head in a mockery of a traditional Balmore beehive. She preferred to wear her jeans as tight as humanly possible, barely allowing herself room to breathe. Never one to question if her butt looked too big, she tended to flaunt all her assets, and the very stricture of the fabric allowed her to satisfy herself behind the bar when things got boring, with the patrons being none the wiser.
“You really know Paul?”, she asked. “ I don’t remember seeing you in here before. What’s your name, cowboy?” Audrey cooed, while her eyes zeroed in on Finn’s mouth, like two laser guided missiles.
“Name’s Finn,” came the answer from those full, luscious lips.”I just killed a man today.”
Jazz Guitarist Paul Wingo-The Man, The Legend Photo Copyright Michael G. Stewart


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